Sunday, February 21, 2010

Wordlessly wonderful

In the Town All Year 'Round
by Rotraut Susanne Berner
Chronicle Books

A fellow librarian turned me on to this marvelous picture book. Mostly wordless, it tells the story of a whole town over the course of a year. Each "chapter" opens with a cast of characters and an invitation to search the pages to find out their story. The next several pages wordlessly show the passage of time over the season. Like most wordless picture books (or nearly wordless, in this case) I think this is a great jumping off point for dialogic reading between caregiver and child.

I would say this book is a marvelous blend somewhere between Richard Scarry's Busytown books and Where's Waldo by Martin Handford, but it's already been called that, by Nancy Pearl, librarian extraordinaire, no less. What I love about this book, what I really love, is how the reader is invited to construct their own narrative. There are perhaps five or six main storylines. We see the same characters pop up in this little community and interact with each other in different ways. Elderly Matthew and Isabella begin a romance, Ella and Andrew have lost their pet parrot, a new kindergarten is being built, a birthday party is planned, we see baby Sophie grow up. The level of detail is extraordinary. I've been poring over this picture book for hours, and every time I look, I notice something new.

The oversize folio size and pleasantly busy pages show most of the buildings in a cutaway view. There's a very old-fashioned feel. It's hard to believe that this is such a new book. The town features an apartment building, a tiny farm, a department store, a cultural center and, interestingly enough, a petting zoo, right next to a nunnery, along with a park and a cafe. But, again, little details reveal a more modern story. The new kindergarten is clearly a green building, with solar panels and meadow grass on the roof; a gentleman at the cafe taps away at his laptop while on a cell phone.

Preschoolers, beginning readers and their families will enjoy this book.

I borrowed this book from the library.

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